Photo courtesy of the San Mateo County History Museum
There were two things that really excited me when I was a youngster — food and Sunday morning newspapers. We didn’t get the newspaper, but my grandmother did. She lived about a half an hour from our house but, regardless of the weather, I would walk over to her house to read the newspaper.
In the relatively small Midwestern town in which I grew up, there wasn’t a lot of new activity happening — but the newspaper was always new. I also read comic books I had collected after my buddies had gotten full of its adventure. After I finished reading it, I stacked it with the dozens of other ones I had collected. I remember having two stacks of comic books, about a yard high, and my mother never understood that that was my “treasure.” One day I came home and my mother had thrown them all away. “Kept getting in my way.” She explained.
I never collected newspapers though. I just read them. The first thing I did when I got her newspaper was find the comic strips. They were usually a couple of pages of “strips” that were in color. Sunday “strips” were in color whereas during the week they were in black and white. Comic strips in newspapers had developed into an art form that everyone understood — but there were favorites and some which I never understood the humor.
The comics as we called them, had somewhat of a natural development over the ages. Cavemen communicated by drawings they put on the walls of caves. After religion had developed, the church facade developed into a “strip” mentality due to the lack of education of the peasants. The only people who could read were monks and priests but pictures people could understand so the church became the newspaper for the scriptures.
By the time the 20th century arrived, newspapers had made a tradition of putting single pictures in horizontal stripes, printed in black and white with short developed stories or political tones. As the name implies, comic strips can be humorous, a “gag a day” (such as Blondie, Bringing Up Father, Marmaduke and Pearls Before Swine) but, in the 1920s, they featured adventure stories such as Popeye, Captain Easy, Buck Rogers, Tarzan, etc. For most of the 20th century, there were some 200 strips being published in newspapers. Readers began to understand the shorthand the author conveyed to the characters in the publication, such as stars for pain, sawing logs for snoring and special balloons for speech and thought.
The cartoonist, Chester Gould, created a character for the Detroit Mirror on Oct. 4, 1931 that would become so popular that it appeared for 45 years on the front page of the New York Daily News. Dick Tracy was a crime fighter who used the newest techniques to capture or put out of business the most varied group of criminals ever heard of before. His sharp jaw, clean-shaven face, dark-black suit and light topcoat, along with his ever-present hat became universally recognized almost overnight.
Tracy’s first villain was “Big Boy,” patterned after Al Capone. After, the cartoonist reached into his imagination and presented his own unique “villains.” Dick Tracy’s gallery of criminals included Prune Face (a Nazi spy and machine design engineer who dabbles with chemical nerve gas), Shoulders (who thought every girl fell in love with him), Flattop Jones (a hit man hired to murder Tracy — he failed), and innumerably more. In 1947, Tracy married his sweetheart Tes Truhart after 17 years of courtship and this union produced a daughter Bonnie Braids. Tracy and his wife adopted an orphaned boy, Tracy Jr. or Junior, and he became included in the crime fighting strip. Many gadgets were used by Tracy but the most brilliant gadget was presented in the strip on Jan. 13, 1946. It was the 2-way wrist radio that became one of the strip’s immediately recognized icon. The world thought it was cool but knew that it would never exist — until now. The 2-way wrist watch was upgraded to a 2-Way Wrist TV in 1964.
Dick Tracy’s sidekick, Pat Patton, was unstoppable until a botched-up security detail resulted in blind inventor, Brilliant, being killed. Police Chief Brandon resigned because of this and Pat Patton was promoted to police chief. Sam Catchum became Tracy’s new sidekick.
One notable goofy redneck yokel was Bob Oscar “B.O.” Plenty. His wife was Gertrude (Gravel Gertie) Plenty. Their daughter, Sparkly Plenty, became a fashion model and their second child, a boy named Attitude, born on April 24, 2011, was so ugly his face was never shown.
Case after case was presented by Gould until his health forced him to retire in 1977.
Rediscovering the Peninsula by Darold Fredricks appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal.